Life, Hope & Truth

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Where Have All the Young People Gone?

In 1994 Janet Bernardi and William Mahedy wrote a book titled A Generation Alone: Xers Making a Place in the World. The conclusion of the book was that those born after 1962—the Xers, as they are called—are not connecting with religion; in fact, they are abandoning traditional religion in large numbers.

Publisher’s Weekly offered this review of the book:

“Xers, like Vietnam vets, are really victims of post-traumatic stress disorder. As heirs of a polluted, overpopulated world, as latch-key kids and video junkies, Xers, the authors find, are spiritually dispossessed. Ironically, they argue, the Xer sense of isolation is amplified by the churches, the very institutions that, with their spiritual traditions, should be best equipped to bring the dispossessed into fellowship and community, but that, instead, seem to drive them further into despair.”

In 2011 R. Channing Johnson wrote a book addressing this same issue, titled Where Have All the Young People Gone? The purpose of this book was to provide solutions to this ever-growing church problem.

In the past 20 years the greatest growth in any area of religious affiliation is those who refer to themselves as unaffiliated with any religion. Sixteen percent of Americans now claim this designation. This is more than double what it was just a generation ago. It is the fastest-growing “religious group” in America according to the Pew Forum, especially among young people.

According to the Barna Group, six in 10 young people will leave their church permanently or for an extended period of time starting at age 15.

What can churches do about this alarming trend among young people? Where have all the young people gone?

In an article written for Leadership Journal David Kinnaman, president of Barna Research states that churches often go from one extreme to another to address this disturbing issue. A large group of churches have chosen to ignore the issue altogether, hoping it will go away; and another group is attempting to reshape their congregations and their messages to appeal solely to the youth. To ignore the issue has not slowed down the departures, and to cater to one group within a church community has further divided the church, with older members, who are still in the majority, feeling left out.

David Kinnaman’s solution was quite simple—the church needs to rediscover the concept of community as defined in Scripture.

Here is the conclusion to his article: “In many churches, this means changing the metaphor from simply passing the baton to the next generation to a more functional, biblical picture of a body—that is, the entire community of faith, across the entire lifespan, working together to fulfill God’s purposes.”

Isn’t it amazing that we can document the failure of religion statistically, especially when it comes to young people; but we need someone to tell us to look into the Bible for the real answers when it comes to solving church problems?

Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, walked this earth almost 2,000 years ago and spoke directly to people of all ages. His message never changed. The apostle Paul used the metaphor of a body to describe the way a church should function.

Until churches are held accountable for promoting the biblical model of a community of believers, I predict that the unaffiliated category will continue to grow, especially among young people. And I predict that the question “Where have all the young people gone” will continue to plague churches in America.

I challenge you to go to the Scriptures and ask the hard questions about your church. Does it follow the biblical model, and are the teachings according to Scripture?

For Life, Hope & Truth, I’m Jim Franks.